Elaine Paige is as much fun to chat with as she is to watch onstage, which is probably one of the numerous reasons why she has remained a top-selling artist for four decades. That's right, the First Lady of the British Musical Theatre — who created the lead roles in Evita, Cats and Chess and made her Broadway debut in Sunset Boulevard — is currently celebrating 40 years in show business. The multitalented singing actress, who I've had the abundant pleasure of watching in the West End productions of Piaf, The King and I and Sunset Boulevard as well as in the New York stagings of Sunset and Sweeney Todd, is marking the occasion with a wonderful book of theatrical recollections and photos ("Memories: Celebrating 40 Years in the Theatre") and a thrilling, brand-new CD ("Elaine Paige Live: Celebrating a Life on the Stage"), which arrives on iTunes Sept. 21. The latter is a live recording of her newest, critically acclaimed concert act, which she has performed all over the world and features the actress re-creating (sometimes in costume) several of her most famous roles. Paige hopes to bring the theatre-based concert to New York — Hey, Mr. Producer, are you listening? — and recently spoke with me about the book, the new CD and her part in the Susan Boyle mania that gripped the world this past summer. That interview with my favorite Brit, one whose talent constantly impresses me, follows:
Question: What brings you to the States this summer?
Elaine Paige: Well, I've come to the U.S. Open. I'm becoming a bit of a tennis fan and keep following it around wherever it is! I've been out to Key Biscayne this year to see the tennis there and Wimbledon. I thought, "You know what, I'm not working this summer. I'm going to go and see the U.S. Open as well!"
Question: Anyone you're particularly rooting for at the Open?
Paige: Well, my man is [Roger] Federer. I just think he is absolutely the king. He's just the best, so graceful, and I enjoy watching because he's so beautiful to watch.
Question: Do you play yourself?
Paige: I do indeed. I play tennis at Queen's Club in London, which is quite a famous tennis club in the city.
Question: Your autobiography is now available.
Paige: It's not really an autobiography — it's me celebrating 40 years onstage. It's really about my life in the theatre over the last 40 years. It's a picture-driven book, really, and then I have several thousand words as well just to fill in the gaps and talk about the people I've worked with and my life in the theatre — the different theatres I've worked at, the different characters I've played and all of the people I've met, and some interesting anecdotes from those that I've worked with in that 40 years.
Question: What was it like going back to the early parts of your career?
Paige: It was interesting. The funny thing [was] after I finished the book and I saw it all printed up, I thought, "Wow, did I really do all that?" [Laughs.] It read quite well, and I had forgotten so many things. That was the interesting thing about writing the book. One had to sit down and try and remember the various stories and anecdotes that had happened along the way. And then, of course, the decision was what to put in and what to leave out. So it took a good seven or eight months to write the thing and compile it all and get the photos. It was a really big job. I thought to myself after having finished it, "I should have just written an autobiography. It would have been easier!" [Laughs.] Question: Had you kept any sort of diary over the years?
Paige: Not really. Bits and bobs. Since Evita I suppose, I had kept a yearbook. My parents always kept cuttings and things like that for me. I did have quite a lot of reference material to work out and to look at and dig out of my storage unit. That was another thing — there was just piles and piles of this stuff, the photographs and the cuttings and first-night party cards . . . all manner of all this stuff and clutter that I'd kept over the years. So that was rather fun. That's why it took so long, I think. You know what it's like when you start looking at old photos? You sit there and remember your life and reminisce, and that's kind of what I did in a way. But it was useful because if I should ever write an autobiography, a lot of the pre-work, you could say, I've already sort of done.
Question: Was there anything you learned about yourself while doing this that surprised you?
Paige: Well, I remembered how much of a worrier I used to be. I'm not so much anymore. I also think I can see that I am a terrible perfectionist in every respect. I don't know if that's a good or a bad thing really. It was just fun to reflect and look back at one's life and all the wonderful people that I've worked with and how supportive my family has been with me over the years. They figured a great deal in a lot of the photographs. It became very apparent to me that my parents, in particular, and my family in general have always been there to support me at all the various opening nights.
Question: That must have been nice to realize that.
Paige: It was a wonderful realization, how tight the family is and was for me and how important they were to me. It was just a wonderful reflection on so much that had happened pretty much unplanned.
Question: What do you think you're proudest of about your career?
Paige: Well, that I've lasted this long, I think. I think I'm proud that I was able to be part of that sort of renaissance of the British musical with Andrew [Lloyd Webber] and Tim [Rice]. That was sheer luck, I suppose, that I was there at that time when they were coming to the fore and I was able to sort of take that journey along with them to some degree. But I think I'm most proud that I was able to forge a career at all in such a difficult business and to be able to, 40 years on, look at it and think to myself that I'm still up there and still doing it. That is something that I'm very proud of. I think to make it in our business is difficult enough, but to stay there is really [hard as well]. Tim actually said this about me in my 40th anniversary brochure: I'm repeating his comment, really, that to remain in the public's affection and for them to still want to come and see your work, that's what I'm most proud of. I've retained fans who still bother to buy a ticket. [Laughs.]
Question: Do you think you'll return to musical theatre? Would you do another show?
Paige: I don't know. The more time goes on, the less and less I think I'm likely to. That's the other thing I think I really noticed when looking back, you do have to devote yourself to it entirely. There's no life outside of it, really, because it's so demanding. I think the older one gets, if I'm truly honest . . . the harder it gets. Musical theatre is unlike any other genre in that it truly is demanding physically. It's easier to do a play. You can do that for three months, and that's doable. But to sign up for a year or more [in a musical], eight shows a week in some rather demanding singing role… And, it's not just the singing, it's everything else that goes with it that makes it so physically and mentally demanding. That's the thing that I would have to contemplate. But, you know, never say never! If the right thing came along… A couple of years ago I did The Drowsy Chaperone in London. Doing that I thought, "Crikey, I've forgotten how demanding it is to do." That wasn't a huge role, but it seemed to take up a lot of my energy.
Question: I think that was the last time we spoke. You had just opened in Drowsy. You also have a new CD, which is being released on iTunes. Where was that recorded?
Paige: It was recorded in Ireland, in Dublin, on my U.K. tour. We'd done it a few times over in Scandinavia and China and various other places, and now we were doing the U.K. and Ireland, and I said to the guys, "What about if we record it live?" My [musical director also] said, "You should record it." And so we got it organized, and we did it in Dublin at the Vicar Street Theatre. I thought the roof was going to come off the joint. It was fantastic that we had chosen Ireland, really, because they were the most responsive and wonderful audience to have had. I'm really pleased with it. I've never done a live album before, so that's a first. It's sort of a complement to the book in a way, and there are some anecdotes in the book that I do live onstage. It was great to hear it as a whole piece, as an entity. Obviously, when I'm doing it [onstage, I] just start at the beginning, get to the middle and get to the end. But for me to hear it back as a whole piece, it really does, I think, work well as a story. There's a real kind of story to it, and it's funny and it's moving. I re-create some of the characters onstage with the costumes. It really is a one-woman show more than a concert. Of course, there are all the songs that I'm well-known for, but also there's quite a bit of new material that sort of links how I came to be doing what I'm doing — how I got from A to B, the songs that got me there and the anecdotes that tell that story.
Question: Any chance you might do it in the States?
Paige: I'm trying to get it organized. I'm in conversations with various people about that at the moment, or my management are, so I'm waiting to see whether I can do it. I really would like to be able to bring it here, but it seems very difficult. . . . I think it would be something that would go down well here because it encapsulates my entire career. It's interesting in that I'm doing things in it that people here wouldn't have seen me do, like Piaf. There's a whole vignette about Piaf. I take a piece out of the play and enact it. I don a wig and so on. I do all of this rather quickly in front of an audience. Question: I like that kind of theatricality in a concert.
Paige: It's because you're doing it in front of their eyes, and they see you change from being Elaine into the character. It's interesting.
Question: You've also been hosting a weekly radio show for quite awhile.
Paige: Yes, it's five years this coming weekend, this Sunday. It's my fifth anniversary, and I have the Jersey Boys come onto the show and sing "Happy Birthday" to me. [Laughs.] It's a good show, and I'm loving it. I just can't believe that it is five years. You see, this is what happens. [Laughs.] Life happens to you, and you're having a great time, and suddenly you turn around and five years have gone by. The listening figures are going up, and it's become a loved show in England and all over the world actually. I get a lot of e-mails particularly from this country and Australia. I'm really pleased with the way it's been.
Question: You were also a big part of the whole Susan Boyle mania this past summer.
Paige: Isn't that amazing? That came out of nowhere. I was actually on holiday when that first hit, when she was kind enough to mention my name [on "Britain's Got Talent"]. I was completely unaware of it. And then I got back from a break that I was taking after my concert tour, and I was inundated with e-mail from friends all over the world. Alan Campbell, who I played opposite in Sunset, e-mailed me, and Tim Rice e-mailed … people from everywhere saying, "You've got to see this!" I thought, "What are they going on about?" So, that's how I discovered it. It was on my e-mail, the YouTube thing. She had sung "I Dreamed a Dream," which indeed I sing in my show. So I have now met her, of course. I don't know if that came out here.
Question: Yes, I saw it on "The Today Show."
Paige: Right. [Meredith Vieira] flew over and interviewed Susan, and then I surprised her [in the studio].
Question: What was that like?
Paige: I thought, "My gosh, I hope this goes down okay. Maybe she won't be pleased to see me." [Laughs.] But she was suitably surprised, I think.
Question: She seemed shocked.
Paige: She seemed pretty shocked. So it was nice. They cut an awful lot of it out, but I sat and chatted with her for a bit and then, of course, I saw her after the broadcast had been done, and we chatted for a while. She was just a sweet person, and I wished her well. So that is extraordinary.
Question: Did you give her advice?
Paige: Somebody said to her, "Have you got anything you want to ask Elaine?" She asked me what songs I like to sing best, so I told her I'm a ballad person myself. I like to sing ballads because you can immerse yourself into the character and get involved in the lyric and that kind of thing. And then she said, "Can I ask you, how do you get to sleep at night after a performance?" [Laughs.] I think she's having trouble with that, having to come down from a performance. And I said to her, "Well, with great difficulty." [Laughs.] "You have to do a lot of deep breathing and meditation and that kind of thing, and drink hot milk." [Laughs.] She was very nice. It just reminded me of how my life turned around with Evita . . . but, for me, I was a professional person and had years of experience prior to it. Even with all of that, it hit me like a ton of bricks — the fact that everybody wants a piece of you, and you suddenly haven't got any free time for yourself and you're everywhere all the time. I felt for her because I could see that it must be a terrible — well it is, I know, I've been there — terrible shock. As glamorous and as wonderful as it all seems, it is a shock and something that takes a bit of time to adjust to. But, of course, I didn't have YouTube and instant worldwide attention. Mine happened first in England and then the States, so it was a slower process. For her it was just instant overnight, and [there is great] pressure involved in that. So we talked about that a bit, and I tried to give her some advice and to tell her to make sure she took time out for herself to have some quiet-down time on her own and not to just say yes to absolutely everything.
Question: There was talk that maybe you two might record something together.
Paige: Well, they're still talking about it. I don't know. I know she is, at the moment, making an album. Simon Cowell is involved in overseeing that. I think she's making it for Sony Music. I haven't had the call yet. [Laughs.] So we'll see. But I know she's keen to do something together, so I said, "Well, let's see how it goes. If your people want to ring my people, I'd be delighted!" But as I speak to you at the moment, I haven't heard. It would be fun.
Question: I would think that while you're in America you have a little more anonymity than you do in Europe.
Paige: I do. Question: Is that a nice change?
Paige: It's lovely. Although it is odd, in the strangest places, I get recognized. I always think that I'm not going to be recognized. In fact, in Saks the other day, I saw two people, and one person was nudging the other, and I just thought, "Oh, it can't be me," and I just carried on looking at the handbags. And then in the end these people came up and said to me, "Oh my God, I know you, don't I?" And I said, "I don't know, do you?" And she said, "Yes, you're the singer, you're the singer!" And I said, "Well, I do do that on occasion." [Laughs.] And that was quite funny. And then I went to the shoe department, and I was buying some Louis Vuitton shoes and again a woman was sitting there. She had on these fantastic boots she was trying on. I said, "Wow, they look fantastic." It turned out she was English, and she said to me, "Oh my goodness, you're Elaine Paige," and I said, "Yes. How amazing, you're English!" She said, "You won't remember this, but many years ago when you were doing Evita…" She bumped into me somewhere or another and asked for my autograph. She was obviously considerably younger then — she must have been just a child. And she said, "You know, I still have it. You were so kind to me and I was with my mother…" But generally speaking, I do have more anonymity here than I do at home.
Question: If you could go back and do any of your stage roles again for a short time, is there any one you would want to revisit?
Paige: Yes, I think I would like to revisit Norma Desmond and maybe Piaf. The interesting thing in my concerts that I'm doing now, it's the first time that I've ever done it with a smattering of costume. Normally I just do it as me in a concert performance. But this time I wanted to suggest a character, so with Norma Desmond I wear one of the gowns that I kept — one of the original gowns I wore in the show with the turban and the sunglasses. I come on wearing this, and the audience go bananas because the vision, the image, is re-created there. Before I've even sung or done anything, they see the image. I think for them, certainly for me, just wearing the clothes or donning a wig or wearing a pair of shoes that the character wore, it really does take me back to the real character. It really is quite interesting that it makes a big difference. By donning the clothing, you're able to kind of disappear more into the truth of the character rather than just singing the song as yourself.
Question: I hope you get to bring the concert here.
Paige: I really would love to. It's been received very well all over the world, so far, where I've played. . . . I would like to try and bring it here. I feel that this encapsulates my career.
Visit www.elainepaige.com for more information.
|photo by Ethan Hill|
Tony Award winners Patti LuPone and Brian Stokes Mitchell will join forces for staged concerts of Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun during the 2010 summer season at the Ravinia Festival in Illinois. Lonny Price will direct the Aug. 13-15, 2010, concerts, which will boast LuPone as the sharp-shootin' Annie Oakley and Mitchell as Frank Butler. The artists will be backed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which will be conducted by Paul Gemignani. Additional casting will be announced at a later time. LuPone's last musical theatre outing at Ravinia was Rose in Gypsy, a role she later repeated on Broadway to Tony-winnning effect. LuPone previously played the role of Oakley in a one-night-only benefit concert at Lincoln Center Theater's Vivian Beaumont. The upcoming concerts will celebrate the 150th birthday of Annie Oakley. For more information visit www.ravinia.org. Ute Lemper, who has starred in both the London and Broadway productions of Chicago, and actress-singer-comic Sandra Bernhard will return to Joe's Pub — the intimate cabaret located within the Public Theater — in December. Lemper will offer Last Tango in Berlin Dec. 10-13. She will be joined by musicians Vana Gierig and Tito Castro. The evening, according to press notes, is described as "a voyage through Kabarett and Tango in Berlin, Paris, New York and Buenos Aires — tales of love, loss and fatal passion." The dependably outrageous and outspoken Bernhard will present an evening simply titled Dec. 09 Dec. 26-31. Joe's Pub is located within the Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street. For ticket information visit www.joespub.com.
Several Broadway actors will take part in an upcoming Symphony Space concert to benefit Restore. The Oct. 26 concert will spotlight the talents of Sierra Boggess (The Little Mermaid, Phantom of the Opera), Tituss Burgess (Jersey Boys, The Little Mermaid), Nikki Renee Daniels (Aida, Les Miserables), Bryce Ryness (Hair), Ann Sanders (Beauty and the Beast, Avenue Q), Jeff Kready (Les Miserables, Billy Elliot) and pianist Alexander Rovang. Show time is 7 PM. Restore provides aftercare services for internationally sex trafficked women in New York City. Visit www.restorenyc.org for more information. Symphony Space is located in Manhattan at 2537 Broadway at 95th Street. For tickets, priced $75, call (212) 864-5400 or visit symphonyspace.org.
The York Theatre Company's Developmental Reading Series will continue Oct. 6 with a reading of the new musical That's Andy. Directed by Clayton Phillips, the 3 PM reading will feature Tony winner Beth Leavel, Hugh Panaro, Lauren Kennedy and Julie Reiber. That's Andy was conceived by Bobby Cronin and features book and lyrics by Crystal Skillman and music and additional lyrics by Kevin Carter. The new work is described as a "a comedic, family-friendly musical about a 10-year-old boy named Andy who dreams of playing the lead in Annie. When Andy shows up to the audition in a red dress, everyone goes haywire. His story takes the nation by storm, sending a confused Andy into the twisted world of reality television in search of the answer to his simple question: 'What did I do wrong?'" For more information visit www.yorktheatre.org.
Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to email@example.com.